November 18, 2019

Freeze-Dried Leaves for Goats

Last post ("Change of Seasons"), I showed you about our fall color and early glimpse of winter. Here's what a sudden drop in temperature into the low 20s does to the leaves still on the trees.

Pecan leaves from the half-dozen or so pecan trees in the barnyard. 

It shocks the trees into dropping them in a crunchy green blanket covering both barn roofs and barnyard.

Ellie and River

The're crunchy because they've been freeze-dried by the sudden cold. The goats really like them.

Miracle

Daisy

Miracle, Nova, and River (on the stump)

This doesn't happen every year, but when it does I collect as many bagfuls as I can. I store the bags in the hayloft and add the leaves to their hay from time to time.


Goats love variety and these make nice treats during winter when everything is bare. The ones in the barnyard are pecan leaves, but they also like oak, sweet gum, and poplar. Maple leaves aren't as popular.

River

The pecans are usually our last trees to lose their leaves. Looks like that's happening more quickly this year!

November 14, 2019

Change of Seasons

Autumn is officially here. After a several scattered frosts earlier in the month, I finally lost the summer garden to Jack Frost last weekend. Fortunately, I heeded of the weather warnings and gathered in the last of the tomatoes and peppers still on the vines.


The leaves have been changing too.



Our color is never very spectacular because of the kinds of trees we have.

Reds and yellows from the sweet gums.

More sweet gum.

Mostly we have silver maples, which turn an unspectacular
yellow. However, I get a few red maple leaves here and there.

More maples

Most of our oaks turn brown, but this one is red!

Dark red from the dogwoods.

The brightest red is the fire bush in our front yard.

The yellow is from Tulip poplars, which have lost their leaves.
By the end of the month, all leaves will have fallen to the ground.

Autumn may be short for us, however. My telltale sign isn't caterpillars, it's this particular cat choosing to sleep indoors at night!

Meowy

In the summer she only comes in if hunting hasn't been good. Then it's just to grab a few bites of food and she's off again. Sleeping inside is proof of cold nights! Lows in the 20s are unusual for us in November but that's what we've got! Winter's on the way!

What season are you enjoying? Autumn? Winter? Spring? Summer? Post some pictures and show us!


Change of Seasons © November 2019

November 10, 2019

Observation on the Time Change

So here we are, one week after they've changed from daylight savings back to standard time. That the whole time change business is a nuisance doesn't need to be said - we all know that. The critters especially don't care what the clock says. They "know" when it's time to eat!

My observation is that I seem to have "more" time now that we've gone back to standard. Maybe it's my inner clock still being attuned to daylight savings numbers, but it seems when I think it's time to go in or time for chores, I still have another hour of project time available. So while my days are actually shorter, they seem longer.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that? How does the time change feel to you?

November 6, 2019

Modest Success in Controlling Wiregrass

In my last blog post, 5 Principles of Soil Health: In the Garden, I mentioned some success in my ongoing battle with wiregrass. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you've likely heard me rant, whine, rage, complain about this problem. It's "real" name is Bermuda grass.

Cynodon dactylon. Indeterminate. Spreads by seed and stolen.

It's a popular lawn and pasture grass in my part of the country. It's ubiquitous—there's nowhere that it isn't—because it's heat and drought resistant, plus tolerates heavy traffic and mowing (or grazing). But it has a dark side: it's highly invasive and quickly becomes an extremely tenacious weed. It has a number of other names, but earned this nickname because it's tough as wire when you're trying to pull it out.

It's also impossible to get rid of. Even the "experts" admit that and at some point the southern gardener simply has to accept it as a fact of life and learn to live with it. It's the reason why we tilled for so long in the garden. Its roots choke out everything and become a compacted barrier to the soil. Dan would till and I'd rake out as much as I could before planting, in hopes of getting a harvest before the wiregrass took over.

All of that is to preface my "success," meaning I have by no means conquered wiregrass, I've merely managed to keep it at bay for the past year in some parts of my garden. Let me show you.

These are the swale beds I made last winter.


They were double dug to create swales in our clay subsoil, filled with organic matter of all sizes (tree limbs to twigs) layered with topsoil, woodchips, and compost. The goal was to not only improve the soil in the beds, but to catch and retain rainwater in the swales. (Details here.)


Between the beds I laid down cardboard and paper feedbags covered thickly with wood chips.

Walking aisle between two beds.

The miracle is, almost a year later, they haven't been taken over by wiregrass! I usually expect the wiregrass to regain control by late summer or early autumn.

So what's different here than in other parts of my garden? I know from years of experience that mulch alone will not keep wiregrass at bay.

Wiregrass happily growing up through a thick layer of woodchips.

Case in point - my asparagus bed. Actually, I gave up on asparagus several years ago. I kept having to relocate it because of wiregrass, and finally gave up. I covered the entire bed with a thick layer of woodchips and called it quits. But the asparagus was persistent and made a surprise showing this year. Trouble is, so did the wiregrass.

Asparagus on the left, competing with wiregrass &
blackberry vines. On the right, a walking aisle with
cardboard tucked under the border plus woodchips.

So what do these areas have in common? Firstly, there was a lot of trampling while double digging. Not much survived that. When the soil was dug and set aside, I removed all traces of wiregrass stems and stolens. Third, I didn't mulch the aisles with only leaves or chips; I put down a barrier - in my case cardboard and then a thick layer of mulch. These are the areas that have remained wiregrass free so far.


What I'm going to have to address for continued success is the main pathways down the length of the garden.

One of two large aisles. The black pipe is
for greywater drainage when we need it.

The main aisles get mowed but also can become overgrown quickly. The edges between these and the mulched aisles is where wiregrass reintroduces itself. It's those edges where the wiregrass sneaks back in.

Wiregrass creeping into a heavily mulched area between two beds.

I've got my winter's gardening project cut out for me. I hope to make two more swale beds, plus cover the main aisles with heavy cardboard and chip mulch. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate!

Is this a permanent solution? No! It will require diligent maintenance to stay on top of it. But after so many years of feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle, any reprieve is very welcome.

November 2, 2019

5 Principles of Soil Health: In the Garden

By the end of summer the garden was looking pretty raggedy, so for the past several weeks I've been busy cleaning out the beds, transplanting fall seedlings, and sowing root crops. Late, I know, but we had very hot weather all the way through the first week of October. I waited for cooler temperatures and rain to moisten the soil.

While I worked, I took some photos, because I want to make a record of my new gardening workflow. Specifically, I want to make a note of the principles we've learned from videos by Gabe Brown (Keys To Building a Healthy Soil) and Ray Archuleta (Soil Health Principles). They discuss five specific principles, all learned from observing natural processes.

5 Principles of Soil Health
  1. No mechanical disturbance
  2. Soil covered at all times
  3. Diversity of plant species
  4. Living roots in the ground as long as possible
  5. Animal impact
These principles have not only changed how I do things, but how I see things. They have changed my perception of soil stewardship. At the end of this blog post is a list of posts detailing what we've learned and how we've applied it to our pastures and other areas. Here's how I've been applying them in the garden.

Example: one of my cowpea beds. It was one of the first beds I double-dug 2-and-a-half years ago for a hugelkultur swale bed.

Most of the plants are dead, and much of the mulch has decomposed.

Living root in the ground, because there is symbiotic relationship between living plant roots and soil microorganisms. It's these organisms that do the work of building soil.

Instead of pulling the plants, I cut them off just above ground. The
dead roots will add organic matter to the soil as they decompose.
CAVEAT: I do pull weeds by the roots. I only leave veggie roots.

Of the living cowpeas, I cut off most of the vine, but leave some leaves.
This keeps living roots in the ground, which feed soil organisms.

No mechanical disturbance. Some soil disturbance is natural; birds scratch and critters dig. Using a shovel leaves chunks intact and the microorganisms can recover. Tilling destroys the soil ecosystem.

Soil covered at all times. Most of us learn about this the hard way. Leave soil bare, and nature will plant it with all kinds of "weeds." Better to get it planted with what we want from the get-go.

 I neither raked up nor tilled in the leaf mulch. Rather, I left it, covered it
with woodchip compost, seeded, & covered the seeds with more compost.

Diversity of plant species - each bed is planted with root crops, greens, and a sprinkling of low growing Dutch clover.

Animal impact - I admit that animal impact is minimal in the garden. Occasionally, I fence some of it off for the goats with the electric netting. Cats make an impact as well, but not a good one! They seem to think that any freshly planted bed is a litter box!

While I was doing that, Dan milled new border planks for the beds.

Just waiting for everything to grow.

This is definitely a work-smarter-not-harder approach to gardening! I've even had some success in keeping the dreaded wire grass at bay. I'll have another post with pictures on that soon. In the meantime, here are the links to my soil building series that I mentioned above.

I especially recommend that you watch those videos. They explain the rationale behind the five principles and give excellent examples of why they work.